Whether you’re embarking on a new SEO project, are pitching for new work or looking to set expectations for your agency partners, KPIs play an important part in establishing and maintaining trust
There is a reason that there are so many articles on vanity metrics – there is a tendency, and not just in marketing, to report on the metrics that are improving, even if those metrics have little or no impact on the brand’s overall objectives. The proliferation of ‘line-goes-up’ social media posts say little about the success of SEO projects without context – but with a little help, you can know what to look out for, regardless of your experience levels.
What is an SEO KPI?
An SEO KPI (key performance indicator) is an agreed upon measurement that offers insight into the performance of specific SEO tasks or projects; typically, KPIs are agreed on in advance of a project and used as pass/fail goals for the work.
5 of the best technical SEO KPIs
Technical SEO is the group of processes and techniques that deal with predominately unseen content and practices – the information we pass to algorithms, the way that visible content is organised. While there are dozens of projects that fall under the umbrella of technical SEO, most of them can be monitored using a crawler (Deep Crawl, Screaming Frog etc.), Google Search Console (GSC) and Analytics. The following are five of the best to track and report on to monitor a site’s progress:
- Coverage: – This refers to how much of your site is indexed as a percentage, as well as metrics like ‘crawled currently not indexed’, ‘discovered currently not indexed’ and ‘duplicate, submitted URL not selected as canonical’. These can be found in Google Search Console and reveal how well your site is performing in the overall index and allows you to draw inferences as to how important Google perceives your site as being.
- Core Web Vitals: – not because of the upcoming CWV update or because of any specific ranking benefit (though it doesn’t hurt), monitoring your performance here reveals how well your site performs technically across a number of different metrics. You can find pretty good reporting options on this by connecting a crawler with an API, or using CWV manually.
- Active pages: – This report should show which of your pages are receiving traffic as a percentage of the whole. While we’re not too worried about crawl budget outside of massive eCommerce sites, the pages on your site which receive no traffic should be redirected, rewritten or, if they are completely irrelevant, return a 404. As such, this is one of the metrics it is nice to see dropping each month.
- Response codes: – 404s are a cost of good SEO – there will be a proportion of your pages which are no longer relevant. The problem here is going to be high proportions of non-200 codes, lengthy redirect chains and loops. Again, you can get reports on these from most good SEO tools and from all of the crawlers I’m aware of.
- Metadata: – metadata is the data you use to describe your data, and covers things like page titles and descriptions, your schema, alt attributes and any other metadata your site may use (a lot of it, like meta-keywords, tend not to be used anymore, but if it is: make sure it’s right or removed).
5 of the best SEO KPIs
By ‘best’ here, I just mean these are some of the metrics that even the most basic SEO service should be reporting on – whether it’s just tweaking your meta-descriptions or a full overhaul, you should be tracking and reporting on the following:
- Organic sessions: – simply put, this shows how effectively you’re winning traffic in the SERPs, so should feature in any reporting you make or receive. While it doesn’t give you the full picture, it does provide a top-level indication of how well your overall SEO is going. You’ll find this information in Google Analytics.
- Total impressions (unbranded): – ‘total impressions’ tends to be one of the most popular metrics for the ‘line-goes-up’ charts mentioned previously that are shared without context – but without a brand filter, it says little about your overall SEO performance which, for the most part, is focused on winning new business rather than appearing for searches already likely to win a click. You can find this information in Google Search Console.
- Click through rate (unbranded): – just as it’s important to know that new customers are seeing your site in search, it’s also important to know how many of these are clicking on your website and this can, again, be seen in GSC. While the organic click through rate is never huge, there are likely issues if your site is only earning one click for every 10,000 impressions.
- Average position: – it’s not conclusive evidence, but your site’s average position for key terms (which you can find in GSC or any of a number of SEO tools including Semrush, Ahrefs, AWR and more) is a good indicator of how your SEO is performing.
- Session duration: – this, along with other timed metrics (time on page, for example) provide an indication of how engaged your users are – and, therefore, offers some insight into how effective your conversion process is. This and other timed metrics can be found in Google Analytics.
3 of the best off-page SEO KPIs
Off page SEO metrics are things which are slightly more difficult to control, but while you might not set overly ambitious targets (unless you’re specifically undertaking a relevant project), they should always feature in your reporting to give you an indication of your website’s overall profile.
- Referral sessions: – whether you’re tracking social referrals or sessions from third party websites, you can see – using Google Analytics – the importance of various publishers, monitor the performance of earned links and different platforms to your site’s performance.
- Quality of backlinks: – while things are changing, links are still a primary indicator of performance in search, so the quality of links (discoverable in many SEO tools, including GSC) is a good metric to measure over time.
- Link churn: – following on from the importance of links, the churn of links is also a valuable source of insight – this is also not a passive measure; by keeping a track of link churn you can look to try to recoup lost links and, in the process, improve relationships with publishers, working in a similar way to monitoring for unlinked mentions.
Why track SEO KPIs?
There are a number of reasons to track SEO metrics and set KPIs, but the most important is that it allows for improvement. It shouldn’t be a matter of too much consternation to miss one or two KPI targets – the tracking of them alone provides the necessary information to help you achieve your goals in the future. Tracking the ten here as a start, for example, will provide insight into the technical and overall SEO performance of your site and keep you honest as you progress.
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